Texas has developed quite a reputation for arguably its best home-grown export: college athletes.
Blue-chip high school football recruits from the Lone Star State are in such high demand that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is invading enemy territory to host a satellite summer camp in Grand Prairie in June.
But flying under the radar might be one of the most coveted athletes Texas develops: the female gymnast.
For that reason, coaches from as far as Corvallis, Ore., and Ann Arbor, Mich., are giddy that they made the cross-country trek to the Fort Worth Convention Center to participate in the 2015 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship.
“Some of the very, very best athletes that have been in the Olympics and the NCAA championships are from the state of Texas,” Oklahoma head coach K.J. Kindler said. “There’s just such a great wealth of talent there and wonderful coaching and amazing clubs and just people who are interested in the sport, period.”
Joining the co-defending national champion Oklahoma in the Thursday through Sunday competition are Florida (which shared last year’s title with the Sooners), Georgia, Michigan, UCLA, Utah, Oregon State, Stanford, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Nebraska.
With 28 athletes returning home for the national championships, Texans make up 15 percent of the field slated to compete. Eighteen call the Metroplex home.
Only Nebraska and UCLA have no Texans on their roster, but the Bruins have three signed to National Letters of Intent, including two-time world all-around champion Simone Biles from Spring, who will defer her enrollment until after the Olympics.
So why is Texas exporting so many championship-caliber athletes to schools around the country?
There isn’t one Division I women’s gymnastics program in the state. Division II Texas Woman’s University houses the state’s only gymnastics program.
So, in a profession that relies on winning championships and recruiting battles for job security, these elite NCAA coaches are tackling another kind of recruiting beyond nabbing the state’s best high school athletes.
Saturday, before the Super Six competitions begin, the coaches committee is hosting a reception for the state’s Division I athletic directors in an effort to increase awareness.
“We would love to see teams add in Texas,” Kindler said. “We would love to see them come out and support and check out our sport next weekend and see what all the excitement is about.”
That excitement could be tangible for the first school to commit to Division I women’s gymnastics.
There’s no hiding it. Most of these top-tier athletes from Texas if given the chance would stay in the state to compete, Georgia head coach Danna Durante said.
Start a program with an athlete like Biles, add a few blue-chip gymnasts and national championships are a very real reality within the first few years of existence, several coaches said.
Though it seems counter to their success these coaches would like to see it come to fruition soon for the sake of their sport.
“Although we’re all competing and it would make our jobs tougher recruiting-wise, if there was a Division I team in Texas, I think every single coach on this call would be excited for that challenge and that addition,” Durante said.
NCAA Women’s Gymnastics National Championship
Fort Worth Convention Center
10:30 a.m. Practice Session I (Georgia Michigan, UCLA, Utah)
1:01 p.m. Practice Session II (Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon St. Stanford)
3:32 p.m. Practice Session III (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Nebraska)
11:30 a.m. Doors open
1 p.m. Semifinal 1
7 p.m. Semifinal 2
4:30 p.m. Doors open
6 p.m. Team finals
12:30 p.m. Doors open
2 p.m. Individual finals